Tuesday briefing: Joe Biden transition officially begins

Warren Murray
·9-min read
<span>Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Top story: GSA agency opens coffers to new president

Hello, Warren Murray here, and thanks for joining me again this Tuesday.

Overnight, Donald Trump has stopped short of conceding the election as he begrudgingly endorsed the release of government resources for the Biden administration’s transition to power. Emily Murphy, who heads the General Services Administration (GSA), said she made the determination independently based on “the law” and “facts”. The move allows Joe Biden and his team to access classified briefings and meet with government officials. It also gives Biden officials access to office space and funds to pay the transition team. Swiftly after the announcement came a Trump tweet saying “our case STRONGLY continues” but “I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same”. Again, though – Murphy said she made that decision herself.

Biden has started naming his cabinet, which includes Janet Yellen – the first woman to chair the US Federal Reserve – as the first female treasury secretary in US history. John Kerry, Obama-era secretary of state and onetime presidential hopeful, returns as as “climate tsar” while Jake Sullivan becomes national security adviser; Alejandro Mayorkas, who, if confirmed, would become the first Latino and migrant to be homeland security secretary; Avril Haines for director of national intelligence, who would be the first woman in that role; and Linda Thomas-Greenfield for ambassador to the United Nations.

Janet Yellen becomes Joe Biden’s treasury secretary.
Janet Yellen becomes Joe Biden’s treasury secretary. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

But wait, you say – what about the blinkin’ secretary of state? As widely foreshadowed his name is Antony Blinken, a Paris-schooled internationalist and foreign policy expert who has been at Joe Biden’s side for more than two decades. He served under Barack Obama as a deputy secretary of state, and on Bill Clinton’s national security council. As the administration takes shape, and much of the world indulges in the audacity of hope, Barack Obama has set out the challenges facing Biden in restoring global faith in American leadership.

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Coronavirus latest – Oxford vaccine researchers have told how subjects who received a half-strength first dose, then a full second dose, developed immunity in 90% of cases, compared with 70% in subjects who received two full doses. The vaccine could be made available in the coming weeks in the UK if approved by regulators. Boris Johnson has set out a revised three-tier system of Covid restrictions for England to run until spring as he implored the public to make “one final push” before the expected arrival of vaccines and mass testing. It puts areas in England into one of three tiers once the four-week national lockdown across England ends on 2 December. With Johnson expected to detail plans to let households gather for Christmas, Labour is among those asking how the government will avert gridlocked roads and packed trains that risk further spreading of the virus. You can find more coronavirus developments at our global live blog.

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Tory MPs meddling in justice, says top judge – The lord chief justice for England and Wales has admonished six Tory parliamentarians for seeking to influence a judge who is overseeing a hearing related to Charlie Elphicke, the MP jailed for sexual assault. The Tory MPs wrote to senior judges, copying in the judge who will oversee the hearing, which is about whether character witnesses written by some of them in support for Elphicke can be made public. Ben Yallop, private secretary to the lord chief justice, wrote that the MPs had sought to influence a judge “without regard for the separation of powers or the independence of the judiciary”. The Guardian, Times and Associated Newspapers are seeking release of the letters where the author is a public figure, in public office or holds or has held a position of public responsibility.

Watch: US agency declares Biden ‘apparent winner’ - clearing way for transition

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Opaque role of ‘clearing house’ – The government has been accused of operating an “Orwellian” unit known as the “clearing house” to obstruct the release of sensitive information under freedom of information (FOI). The little-known unit seeks to control the release of potentially embarrassing information, according to the openDemocracy group. The unit requires Whitehall departments to send it requests that are deemed to be potentially sensitive or too expensive to answer, and vets proposed responses. David Davis, the former Tory minister, said the clearing house goes against the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act “and probably the letter, too”. The government says the clearing house exists to ensure a standard approach to FOI requests, adding: “We must balance the public need to make information available with our duty to protect sensitive information and ensure national security.”

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Volcano power – Geologists in New Zealand are hoping to reduce climate-damaging emissions by drilling deep into an extinct 11-million-year-old volcano below the city of Dunedin to harness its heat. They hope that heat from 500 metres down can be tapped to warm homes. In Britain the government plans to double the amount of renewable energy it will subsidise in 2021 after agreeing to include onshore wind and solar power projects for the first time since 2015. Energy companies will bid for subsidy contracts in an auction that could support up to 12GW of renewable energy – enough for up to 20m electric vehicles a year.

Today in Focus podcast: Racism stalls Windrush restitution

The Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman wrote her first story on the Windrush scandal almost three years ago – yet she is still hearing from people facing injustice. Alexandra Ankrah, the most senior black Home Office employee in the team responsible for the Windrush compensation scheme, discusses why she resigned this year, describing the scheme as systemically racist and unfit for purpose, while Samantha Cooper describes her frustrations with trying to access financial help.

Lunchtime read: Wolf at the door

“There’s a monument near Brora, 60 miles short of John o’Groats, that claims to mark the spot where the last wolf in Sutherland was killed. I pass it often in the car. The wolf, it says, was killed by the hunter Polson in or about the year 1700 … Did it really happen? Probably not,” writes Cal Flyn. “Still, whether Polson is to blame or not, there are no wild wolves left in Scotland. By 1700, they had also long been extirpated from England and from Wales.”

Eurasian grey wolves at a wildlife park in Scotland
Eurasian grey wolves at a wildlife park in Scotland. Photograph: Alamy

In Europe, those that survived retreated to rare enclaves. On the continent today, patterns of farming and land use have been changing on a grand scale, as marginal land – too steep or too depleted – falls into disuse. Some estimate that in the three decades leading to 2030, an area the size of Italy will have been abandoned within the EU alone. As prey animals have crept back in, so have the carnivores – including the wolves. There are an estimated 12,000 wolves in Europe now, far more than in the contiguous US, and they have ranged back into populous countries like Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. With centuries-old fears raised once again, can wolf and humankind share the landscape?


Crowds of up to 4,000 people will be allowed to return to sporting events in England from next week, and grassroots sport will also resume as part of an easing of coronavirus restrictions announced by the prime minister. Theo Walcott scored his first goal since returning to Southampton but Pedro Neto grabbed a point for Wolves in a 1-1 draw at Molineux while Chris Wood’s early goal was enough for Burnley to beat Crystal Palace 1-0 at Turf Moor and move out of the bottom three. The England prop Kyle Sinckler has admitted that a mid-lockdown move to Bristol left him performing at just 20% of his ability but credited Eddie Jones’s faith in him for helping getting back to his best.

The father of the 2008 Olympic road race champion, Nicole Cooke, raised concerns about alleged drug use in cycling with UK Anti-Doping and British Cycling that he felt were not acted on, a medical tribunal has been told. Joe Burrow, the No 1 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines, according to reports. Pope Francis lauded a delegation of NBA players who met him at the Vatican on Monday as “champions” and said he supported their work on addressing social injustice. And the world’s best batsman, Steve Smith, has revealed a training breakthrough has him feeling like his old self at the crease on the eve of Australia’s ODI, T20 and Test series with India.


The Nikkei index rose to its highest since May 1991 with most other Asia-Pacific markets also higher, though the Hang Seng and Shanghai have been flat or dipped slightly. Qantas has caused a stir with its CEO, Alan Joyce, foreshadowing that international travellers won’t be allowed on its planes without a coronavirus vaccine once it is widely available. The pound is worth £1.333 and €1.125 while the FTSE is headed for a rise of 0.37% at the open.

The papers

A quick flick through the print editions then. The Guardian leads with “UK vaccine ‘brings world step closer to ending Covid’”. The Telegraph picks up on the PM’s line that “Tis the season to be jolly careful” and the Metro and Express are more or less word for word in line with that, which will doubtless please the PRs at No 10. The Mail blends two themes with “Vaccine cheers … but first, the tiers”.

The Times has “Covid curbs should be over by Easter, says medical chief”, which is when it is hoped the majority of vulnerable people will have been immunised. The Mirror has “Harsh winter … brighter spring”, highlighting that tiered restrictions are expected to affect more people between now and April.

The FT has “Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine adds to armoury for Covid battle”. The Sun has a story about I’m a Celebrity.

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Watch: What does a Joe Biden presidency in the US mean for the global economy?